February 14, 2018

Producing Another Dramatic Late Rally, PHS Boys’ Track Wins 3rd Straight Sectional

COMEBACK KIDS: Members of the Princeton High boys’ track squad celebrate after earning a share of the team title at the Central Group 4 indoor sectional meet at the Bennett Center in Toms River last Saturday. Trailing 44-27 late in the meet, PHS rallied to tie WW/P-South 51-51 for the crown. It marked the program’s third straight indoor sectional title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Last year, the Princeton High boys’ track team trailed 41-22 late in the Central Group 4 indoor sectional meet but rallied to win the title.

As PHS competed in this year’s sectional last Saturday at Bennett Center in Toms River, it found itself in a similar predicament as it trailed 44-27 heading into the 3,200 and 4×400 relay.

“We got down because WW/P-South laid down some good performances in the mile (taking first and third) and really over performed there,” said PHS boys’ head coach Ben Samara who got a second place finish from senior stalwart Will Hare in the 1,600-meter run with junior star Acasio Pinheiro taking sixth. “That is when things started looking dicey for us.”

Although things may have looked bleak, Samara was confident his athletes could mount another rally.

“We knew based on the last two years that we are never out of it,” said Samara.

“Anything can happen, and those guys even have that attitude now, so we knew that the two-mile was going to be the start of the comeback and we just tried to work our way back into things.”

With Pinheiro and Hare going one-two in the 3,200 and the 4×400 relay taking third, PHS worked its way back into a 51-51 tie with WW/P-South, earning its third straight sectional crown.

The performance of Pinheiro and Hare in the 3,200 showed that PHS wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

“Acasio is an incredibly talented runner and he came off that mile and put in a really good time in the two-mile,” said Samara of Pinheiro, who clocked a time of 9:08.05 with Hare just behind in 9:08.87.

“Will fought so hard in that mile and very similar to last year with Alex Roth, who was just nipped in the mile and came back with a great performance in the two-mile. He is the heart of our team and he showed that again.”

Senior throwing star Paul Brennan showed his talent, winning the shot put with a heave of 55’8.

“As much as we rely on Paul, it is nice to be able say that he over performed even what we expected of him, with a personal best in such a big meet, and really dominated the competition in the way that he did,” said Samara. “It says a lot about what he is going to do moving forward.”

While Simon Schenk fell short of his school record of 15’0 in the pole vault, his best jump of 14’6 was good enough for second in the sectional.

“He had a little bit of an off day, but if an off day for him is 14’6, I think he is going to be OK,” said Samara.

“The coolest thing is that you have two of the three best vaulters in the state in the same section. They are going see each other next week in the Group meet and at the Meet of Champions. It is going to be a lot of fun.”

It was a lot of fun for Samara to see his 4×400 relay come through as it took third and earned the six points PHS needed to pull out a tie.

“We looked at those guys and we just said do it; you are going to do it because you have to do it, and that is the bottom line,” said Samara, noting that the quartet of junior Nils Wildberg, junior Jackson McCarthy, junior Jack Whetstone, and sophomore Matt Perello was seeded eighth.

“They went out there, laid down the most impressive clutch performance I have seen since I started at PHS. It was incredible to see their dedication, determination, and heart that they showed. It just embodies everything we have been about for the last few years.”

That dedication and determination has helped keep PHS in the winner’s circle.

“At that point, we were happy to share the title, having been where we were and coming back from being down for a third year in row,” said Samara. “To say we got a three-peat sectional title is something really, really special.”

Achieving that feat led to a raucous celebration on the track. “As much as they laid their emotions out in the race, they laid their emotions out after the race,” said Samara. “Every team had their eyes on them because our guys were just screaming, laughing, hugging each other like we had just won the lottery. It was amazing.”

Noting that PHS has benefitted from some good fortune in its title run, Samara knows that you have to be in it to win it.

“We have had some luck along the way, but every time one of our guys mentions the luck that we have, I tell them to be in a position to win three years in a row the way we have says something about our team,” said Samara. “They say you make your own luck.”

As PHS heads into the state Group 4 meet this weekend, it will need some luck to came away with a state crown with powerhouse East Orange looming in the competition.

“They are real talented in the sprints and we are real talented in the distance and the shot, and pole vault so our events don’t overlap at all,” said Samara.

“Neither of us can stop each cypher from getting our points. It is just who gets more points. We will have to see; we may just go after some top individual titles or we may go after the team title. It will be a tall order.”